I’m penning this in response to Labour MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion’s comment on BBC R4 after the Newcastle child sexual abuse scandal came to light, for those that missed it, she said, ‘what we need to acknowledge and be very upfront about is, all of these towns where these where these case perpetrators have been British Pakistani’.
She was, of course, referring to the fifth scandal of its kind to reach the public consciousness in recent years that I can recall from the top of my head, I’m sure there are others. First, the Rochdale abuse scandal hit the headlines, in 2012 nine men, the majority of who were British Pakistani were jailed for running a child sexual exploitation ring, abusing as many as 47 girls, some as young as 13. The Jay report (2013), an enquiry into why the numerous reports about the abuse had not been adequately investigated by either social services or the police, found that the authorities had failed the victims of child sexual abuse due to “nervousness” around the issue of ethnicity. However, 5 years on, Maggie Oliver, a former detective that worked on the case and then became a whistleblower, claims that the child sexual abuse gangs are still operating in Rochdale and that the authorities are still more interested in covering up their mistakes than dealing with the problem [i].
The second scandal of its kind was in Bradford with 17 perpetrators, many British-Pakistani receiving a total of 160 years in prison for sexually abusing one school girl, said to have been sexually abused by as many as 100 men [ii]. The third was Oxford where 17 men many of which were again British-Pakistani were arrested on similar charges [iii]. As I said, there were others in between but these came easily to mind and serve as an example. The BBC showed a docudrama of the Rochdale scandal, so it was fresh in the public and media minds when the fourth case of its kind hit the news. Earlier this year, six men were convicted of abusing two girls in Rotherham, between 1999 and 2001. This time all the men convicted were British Pakistani. Then of course last month, there was a similar case in Newcastle where 17 men and a woman were convicted of similar charges for offences from 2011-2014, involving 22 victims and 26 defendants facing more than 100 charges against them. Those prosecuted were mainly British-born with a range of parentage such as Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish [ii].
In 2013, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) published a study looking at “contact sexual offending against children by non-related adults”. Claiming to have found two types of group-based child sexual abuse. Accordingly, Type 1 involves targeting victims, based on their vulnerability rather than having a specific interest in children, 75 % of recorded Type 1 group abusers, were broadly classed as ‘Asian’. The cases of Rochdale, Rotherham, Bradford, Oxford and Newcastle are examples of Type 1 group-based child sexual abuse. Type 2 are those defined as having “a longstanding sexual interest in children”– 100 % of recorded Type 2 group offenders were white. The study found that Type 1 group-based child abusers tend to work in larger groups than Type 2 child abusers, who often work in pairs. There is currently more Type 1’s coming to light, for example, in 2012 there were 57 reported cases of Type 1 group-based child sexual abuse whereas there were only six reported cases of Type 2. However, the number of cases reported does not always reflect the number of offences. Therefore, it is correct to say that there are more recorded cases of ‘Asian’ perpetrators of group-based child sexual abuse than white perpetrators of group-based child sexual abuse in the UK but that is not the end of it [iii]. Also, group-based child sexual abuse is not the most common type of child sexual abuse.
Sarah Champion also claimed such grooming gangs had been allowed to thrive because people were “more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse” [iv]. On the contrary, I believe that this type of group-based child sexual abuse is being noticed, frowned upon, reported, taken seriously and gaining the media and public attention, at long last, precisely because the perpetrators are from minority groups and it fits with the current political climate and Islamophobic trends in the UK. Some are calling the abuse race related because the girls are predominantly white British but the CEOP study showed that it is opportunity related rather than anything to do with race. I’m not taking away from the ordeal that these girls suffered and I am thankful that justice is being served and awareness is being raised, this I hope will lead to empowering the victims and help other victims to speak out about their experience. I hope it leads to better education on recognising the signs and dangers of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, training for the professionals involved and lessons learned on the part of the authorities etc… I’m an idealist.
But, I take issue with the media and politicians focus on the ‘race’ of the perpetrators, especially when they are a minority of cases relative to the magnitude of the issue of child sexual abuse. I believe that it is important to also keep in mind that child sexual abuse by lone offenders is much more common than group-based child sexual abuse. Up to 70% of reported abuse is by a single perpetrator, not a group. According to CEOP, in 2012, 25 police forces identified 2,120 lone perpetrators involved in non-familial child sexual abuse in 2012. In comparison, 31 forces reported a cumulative total of 65 group-based offences [v]. Furthermore, these statistics exclude child sexual abuse from a family member, which is likely to be more under reported that non-familial abuse. One study found that 20% of children who are raped under twelve are so by their father, a further 16% were raped by another family member [vi]. The fact is that most perpetrators who sexually abuse children are family members, family friends or someone else known to the child, only 4 -7% of offenders are strangers to the victim [vii]. A meta-analysis of child sexual abuse based on 331 independent samples with a total of 9,911,748 participants indicated that 11.8% or 118 per 1000 children suffered from sexual abuse [viii]. Whereas RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization, estimates that 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 [ix].
Home secretary, Amber Rudd called child sexual abuse an “affront to everyone” saying that political correctness should not get in the way of uncovering crimes [x]. I totally agree with Amber, so let’s be straight, most often, it’s our own men abusing our children and this is true wherever you live, whatever your race or religion and whatever social class you are from. Focussing on one group might conveniently help us avert our minds from the truth but it’s time to face facts. It’s happening in our homes, our schools, our youth clubs, our churches. Predatory men and women are preying on children for sexual gratification, there is no point looking at the victims to find the cause because all they have in common is a lack of power simply by being children. Any child anywhere can become a victim of child sexual abuse and it is never the fault of the child. There is no point pretending that the perpetrators belong to one group that we can easily spot in a crowd, as comforting as it might be, it simply is not true, they belong to every group. Most people who sexually abuse children are male although some are women. When the perpetrator is a woman it is less likely to be reported and for some unknown reason, the reports are often not taken as seriously as when the perpetrator is a male. When I first read about a mother sexually abusing her son I found it the most difficult thing to comprehend. It seemed impossible and more abhorrent than anything I’d ever conceived of because it was someone from my group, someone like me but it happens and therefore it needs to be acknowledged and dealt with.
When Freud developed ‘Seduction theory’ suggesting that the ‘hysteria’ and ‘obsessional neurosis’ he diagnosed in his Bourgeoisie female patients was caused by childhood sexual abuse, he received harsh criticism and was silenced by his bourgeoisie peers. His fellow academics and European men of influence forced him to retract his theory, the implications just didn’t sit well. It’s an uncomfortable notion that members of your own group are doing something so abhorrent as sexually abusing their own children. We now have much psychological evidence to show the long term mental and physical health problems associated with childhood sexual abuse, for example, post-traumatic stress disorder, to see that Freud was on to something, but even he didn’t want to upset his friends by suggesting the unthinkable and facing the mirror towards them.
We also have much more evidence coming to light of how widespread child sexual abuse is thanks to so many brave victims coming forward and speaking out. We also know that many people in positions of power have failed to act to protect children from child sexual abuse when they have been made aware of it. This year we have heard about the football abuse scandal, involving 328 clubs. 276 coaches and others who worked with young hopefuls have been named as perpetrators and 1,886 incidents reported by 741 victims [xi]. I recently watched a Panorama documentary about a massive child sexual abuse cover-up within the Army, Air and Sea cadets. According to the BBC, 363 allegations have been made against them in the past 5 years for previous and current child sexual abuse. Jimmy Saville was the tip of the iceberg for the celebrity world, there have been a string of them hit the headlines since. There are also current inquiries going on into the abuse of our most vulnerable children within children’s homes across the UK. The Catholic church is known for covering-up child sexual abuse and moving priests from church to church to avoid justice being done. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice study found 4-6% of priests admitted sexually abusing children [xii].
Coincidently, earlier this year, the home office ‘lost’ a dossier of 114 files containing evidence of an alleged Westminster paedophile ring from the 1980’s. It smells suspiciously like a cover-up and makes me wonder about the people who are currently running the country and holding positions of power [xiii]. I also wonder why some people who work in the police force and social services don’t take child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation reports as seriously as they should, or treat them as urgently as they could. I’m puzzled at why some judges are lenient on child abusers and how compensation can be denied to a child that has suffered from sexual abuse because they consented ‘in fact’ although they were too young, in fact, to consent by law [xiv]. Are these men and women in positions of power simply protecting their own in-group? Is it too difficult for them to see a predator when it looks just like them? Or is there something more sinister going on?
Focussing on British-Pakistani, Asian, Muslim or any racially or religiously defined group and projecting all the evil that embodies a child abuser onto them will only serve to facilitate and hide the real predators. This type of projection has happened throughout history, for example, the African rape myth in America in the 19th century, where the fear of black men raping white women resulted in the castration and lynching of many African Americans, when it was the white slave owning class raping African slave women that were the real threat and commonplace occurrence. Similarly, the Aboriginal child abuse scandal which facilitated the widespread removal of children from their families by the authorities under the mistaken belief that they were sexually abusing their children. It is now well documented that it was the white Christian missionaries that were abusing Aboriginal children in group homes during the stolen generation. This also occurred in Canada with the First Nations people and in America to the Native Americans [xv]. It is also the habit of man throughout history to call someone a savage for the crime of seeming less civilised than himself by his own judgement and then savagely raping his wife, hacking him to death in front of his children and burning them in a heap, like rubbish. But I’m going off on a tangent.
We find these predators, that look like you and I, in positions of power and trust, positions where they have easy access to children, working in schools, children’s homes, youth clubs, coaching teams, churches and government. But we also find them everywhere else. They are fathers and uncles and grandfathers and friendly neighbours, wives, sisters and mothers, they will take you in and earn your trust and that of your children because they are just like you. So, what we need to do as individuals is to be vigilant, watch closer, listen harder, trust our children’s worries and ask about their nightmares. Take an interest in their friendships and their fears. If you work with children listen to them, know the signs and take notice, you might be their only life line. Most importantly, don’t be a bystander, report any concerns you have about a possible child at risk or an adult being at all inappropriate with a child to the local authorities immediately. We also need the authorities to take reports seriously and act on them in a speedy manner. We need judges to be less lenient. We need to stop brushing this issue under the carpet, acknowledge the magnitude and pervasiveness of the problem and tackle it head on together.
[vii] Rowan, E.L., 2006. Understanding child sexual abuse. Univ. Press of Mississippi.
[xv] Bull, S. and Alia, V., 2004. Unequaled Acts of Injustice: Pan‐Indigenous Encounters with Colonial School Systems. Contemporary Justice Review, 7(2), pp.171-182